Friday, December 05, 2008

Just "deportees"?

So, I'm wondering today where comprehensive immigration reform falls out on president-elect Obama's legislative agenda? No doubt, the current economic crisis will affect priorities. But then, the subject managing immigrant labor surely will play some role in any future economic recovery, at least I would think it should.

Frankly, I'm back to our neighborhood, to our children, those born of undocumented immigrants, and to their future in this country.

I'm thinking of the hard-working men and women, enticed to journey here by the promise of a better life and a good job. People I see every day.

I'm thinking of my faith and how that relates to a just labor policy for immigrants, especially those relatively low-skilled immigrants who keep a city like Dallas moving.

I'm thinking of how we've exploited their presence, their willingness to work hard for very low wages to build our community.

I'm thinking we need a fair policy that considers no one a "throw away" person.

I'm thinking of Monica today and others like her who need to see the DREAM Act passed through Congress now [for background here, simply type in "Monica" in the blog search box above to read more of her story--there is quite a lot to read about her and others like her and her family!].

So, where is the comprehensive reform package? Where do we stand on that matter?

There ought to be an equitable process that allows Mexican and other Latin American immigrants to assume documented, guest worker status in any number of industries running short on labor.

There ought to be a way to ensure that a fair wage is paid for an honest day's labor.

There ought to be a way to protect the children and the families of those who labor among us. People should not be made to live in fear.

At the same time, our nation should work with governments south of our border to improve their economies, to promote justice in those economies and to create new connections that pay off for us all who call this hemisphere home.

The whole matter brings me back to Woody Guthrie. I suppose I shouldn't have watched the old movie about him recently!

In his song, Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos), Guthrie sings about the hard life of immigrant workers. He sings about the high, human cost of labor, labor that we have a history of under valuing and de-personalizing, as we find ways to write off the people who provide it before we send them away.

The song protests the inhumane treatment of passengers who died aboard a planed that crashed near Los Gatos Canyon on January 29, 1948. Twenty-eight migrant farm workers being deported to Mexico perished in the crash along with four U. S. citizens. Guthrie wrote the song out of respect for the Mexican victims who were never identified in news reports, but referred to only as "deportees." Of course, U. S. citizens who died were named.

Guthrie's song provides names for the migrant workers.

The Mexican victims of the accident were placed in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. Of the 27 men and one woman, only 12 were ever identified. The grave site measured 84 feet by 7 feet, allowing for two rows of caskets.

Now for Woody's song:

Deportee (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)

The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?

[Words by Woody Guthrie and Music by Martin Hoffman© 1961 (renewed) by TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc.]

Listen to Arlo Guthrie, Woody's son, and Emmy Lou Harris perform this moving tribute to those who were lost in the tragic flight.

So much work to be done for the sake of those who simply want to work for a better life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow - powerful stuff! I certainly hope that one thing the new Democratic-led government can finally do is pass comprehensive immigration reform. With such strong majorities and many Republican sympathizers (eg John McCain) I think they can.